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Skilling, John

John Skilling 1921-1998

Engineering Specialties
Structural Engineering
Wind Engineering
Thin Shell Concrete
Seismic Engineering


John Skilling was born on October 8, 1921, in Los Angeles, California. His father was a civil engineer. He grew up with exposure to engineering and experience working on construction projects. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1947 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering. He had started working at the Seattle based W. H. Witt Company in 1945, and became a principal of the firm in 1950. The firm underwent extensive growth and many name changes under the leadership of Skilling and today is known as Magnusson Klemenic Associates. (1)

Skilling and his firm gained national recognition after their work on the World Trade Centers in 1973. Their innovative structural work on the towers had many firsts in the world including prefabricated, multiple-column-and-spandrel steel wall panels and mechanical dampening to reduce the effects of wind. The World Trade Center remained the tallest buildings for one year until completion of the Sears Tower. (1) After the 1993 bombing on the World Trade Centers, Skilling said that the towers were designed to withstand the impact of a Boeing 707 but the major concern was the fire that would result from all the burning jet fuel. (2)

After their work on the World Trade Centers, Skilling and his firm moved on to design many of the buildings in Seattle’s skyline. The Kingdome, which has been demolished, was the largest thin shell concrete dome in the world. Seattle skyscrapers he designed include the Columbia Center, Rainier Tower, Century Square, One Union Square, Two Union Square, and many others. A 1986 issue of the Seattle Times named Skilling “Seattle’s Man of Steel” due to the way he shaped Seattle’s skyline. This was just one of many awards and recognitions Skilling received for his work around the world. Even in retirement, he continued to work on design projects until his death on March 5, 1998. (1)

Selected Projects

World Trade Center, New York City, New York

Kingdome, Seattle, Washington

Rainier Tower, Seattle, Washington

Columbia Center Tower, Seattle, Washington

Century Square, Seattle, Washington

Two Union Square, Seattle, Washington

Washington State Convention and Trade Center, Seattle, Washington

Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington

Man of Steel Magazine Cover


(1) Skilling, John B. (1921-1998), Engineer

(2) Twin Towers Engineered To Withstand Jet Collision


Written by Tyler Greeves

January 27, 2011 at 4:33 am

Posted in Engineers